And just like that, it’s September. On Friday it was August, and hot. On Saturday it was once again hot, but it was also now September. As far as nature was concerned, the only change had been the addition of another planetary rotation. The sun went down, it was night, then the sun came up on a new day, a day that was hard to distinguish from the previous one.
For us human-type people, though, it was no longer August. It was now September, with days growing noticeably shorter and the nights becoming longer and cooler. September means summer is waning and autumn is upon us. The growing season is nearing completion and we all know, before a new one arrives, we’ll have to slog through six months of fall and winter.
September is a lovely time really. As the sun moves south and sunlight has to cut through more and more atmosphere to reach the ground, the light itself seems to change character, becoming softer and more yellowish. Shadows become longer and at sunrise and sunset seem to stretch out to an impossible length. If I stand in the right place in autumn, and at the right time of the day, I can touch the end of a shadow cast by a 15-foot juniper tree a full mile away. That’s the kind of thing that puts a smile on my face.
Every season has its upsides and downsides.
In my world, I work outside. There’s no 9-5 office for me. When I must, I work in bone-chilling cold and in the scorching heat of a hammering summer sun. It’s always easy to remember – and dread – the worst of nature’s weather. Calving in a blizzard. Building fence in 100 degree heat.
Even in the worst weather there’s wonder and joy too. Tough conditions always carry at least a touch of nature’s majesty, and I’m fortunate to be able to experience and celebrate the wonder and variety of the seasons.
As Thoreau said, “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
As I’ve grown older and watched many of my chronological peers become creaky and aged, it’s seemed a good idea to work harder on my own physical health and fitness. This year I’ve taken a more planned and methodical approach, alternating weight room workouts with hiking/sprinting on a daily basis. In the weight room I do a variety of lifting, pushing, and pulling exercises, as well as some work on my core. On hiking days I try to do 4-5 miles and include some uphill sprints. For the sprints I’m lucky enough to be able to use the concrete stairways alongside the Union Pacific railroad viaduct which crosses Highway 71/Chestnut Street on the north side of Kimball. Each stairway consists of 21 steps, and each step has an eight inch rise for a total of 14 vertical feet. Sprinting 50 flights of those stairs is an excellent workout. In the spring when I started 10 flights was more than enough, but since then I’ve become more fit and it now takes 50 flights to reach the same level of exertion.
An upside to all the physical exercise is that I feel much better on a daily basis, and since I feel better, I can enjoy my habitual prairie hiking all the more.
On Saturday I added a prairie jaunt to the morning hike/stairway workout. As I hiked the native land of the ranch I paused at a favorite destination – an old pole corral and stock tank tucked in a grove of elm trees. I took a breather and sat in the bright, late summer sunshine, back against the stock tank, and took in the miles-long vista of prairieland. Not many people are in a position to enjoy a similar experience.
Here we are on the cusp of autumn. It’s a season that is in many ways my favorite. In early autumn the days are warm and balmy and sometimes hot. The nights cool down delightfully making for perfect sleeping weather. The air is filled with the smell of gumweed and stinkgrass, and those two odors have the power to transport me effortlessly into autumns long past. Soon it will be time to wean calves, a full day of tough work shared by sons and daughters and grandchildren. When the hard work is done there may well be a touch football game played in the big, weedy barnyard. In the background, wafting from a pickup radio, will be the sound of a football game played in Lincoln. And after the game a wonderful working-crew meal, featuring the bounty of the ranch – beef and garden potatoes and sweet corn and green beans and salad and pickles and fresh homemade bread with wild chokecherry jam.
Autumn on the EJE Ranch provides an experience that only a vanishing few will ever know. The smells, the sounds, the work, the play, the food. Satisfaction. Shared joy and love. Contentment. Continuity.
May your autumn be filled with blessings too.